Universities take steps to absorb 4 percent allotment cut

? As college students in Kansas get ready to start a new academic year next week, university administrators across the state are still figuring out how to absorb a $23.6 million cut to state universities that Gov. Sam Brownback ordered in May in order to balance the state budget.

Although the University of Kansas is taking the largest hit — a combined $10.7 million to the Lawrence and KU Medical Center campuses — officials there still have not announced how those cuts will be allocated, although an announcement had been expected by Friday.

At Kansas State University, however, administrators said they plan to cut 3.85 percent of their spending across the board, even after raising tuition and fees this year.

Jeff Morris, vice president of communications and marketing at K-State, said the decision about how to apply those cuts is being left to each individual school and department.

“We’re pretty de-centralized here,” he said. “Typically, people will not hire an open position. There may be fewer grad students hired (as teaching assistants), some may postpone technology upgrades.”

Brownback ordered the “allotment” cuts in May after signing a budget bill that called for spending more money this fiscal year than the state expects to receive in revenue.

The cuts amounted to 4 percent across the board for most agencies other than K-12 education and public safety functions.

For the six universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents, however, the cuts were not applied uniformly. Instead, KU and K-State took proportionately larger cuts under the theory that they are less dependent on state appropriations to fund their entire operations.

The cut to the KU campus in Lawrence was just over $7 million, while the cut to K-State’s main campus in Manhattan was $5.2 million. Those represent about 5 percent of each campus’ state appropriation.

K-State announced Aug. 11 that it planned to move forward with some planned spending increases, including targeted pay increases for some faculty.

“When you go long periods of time without any raises, people get what’s called salary compression, where people who’ve been there a while are making the same salary as new people coming in,” Morris said. “When we have those situations, the dean or department head can go in and make an award up to $3,000 a year.”

But the university said in a newsletter Aug. 11 that it would not be able to fund a general “merit pool” to award pay raises to other faculty and staff.

“Developing a sustainable compensation pool remains a critical priority for us,” the newsletter said. “As we noted in our May letter, our constrained budget environment is a new normal that we must all work together to address.”

Wichita State University, the only other research university in the Regents system, saw its budget cut by $2.8 million, or a little less than 4 percent of its state appropriation.

WSU spokesman Lou Heldman said the school has not adopted a specific plan for absorbing that cut, except through general belt-tightening as the year progresses.

“We look at everything, but for many months now we’ve been very careful about our spending here,” he said. “So we look at each position very carefully before we fill it. We look at every significant contract carefully before we execute it. This is continuation of a process that’s been going on for last couple of years. Anyone who’s watched what’s happened with the state budget the last couple of years knows how things are.

Likewise, officials at Emporia State University and Pittsburg State University said they will simply try to absorb their cuts through normal cost-saving measures throughout the year.

PSU’s cut was just over $1 million, while the cut for ESU was $855,204. Those represent about 2.8 percent of those schools’ state appropriations.

Officials at Fort Hays State University, which took a $1 million, or 3.1 percent cut, were unable to provide details of their plans Friday afternoon.

The cuts were distributed among the school’s “all funds” budget, which includes federal research grants and other streams of revenue, rather than as a uniform percent of each school’s state appropriation.

That requirement was inserted into the budget bill at the request of State Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, who is running for re-election in a potentially tough race against Democrat Lynn Grant of Frontenac, the widow of former Rep. Bob Grant.

Democrats argued during the budget debate that the vote to insert that language into the budget was an attempt by Republicans to boost LaTurner’s re-election chances. LaTurner, however, said he was only trying to protect the university in his district.